Water Main Break Shuts Down Part of Beltway

Monday, Jan 24, 2011  |  Updated 6:50 PM EDT
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Chopper 4 found two vehicles destroyed by the force of the water.

Chopper 4 found two vehicles destroyed by the force of the water.

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Water Main Break Affects Thousands

A water main break in Capitol Heights, Md., affected more than 400,000 water customers in Prince George's County and led to a "boil water" alert.
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It took close to eight hours for crews to stop a 54-inch water main break in Prince George's County Monday, enough time for 50 million gallons of water to spill out into the neighborhood and onto the Inner Loop of the Beltway.

Compare that to the massive 66-inch water main break along River Road in December 2008, when 35 million gallons flowed for nearly six hours.

All in all, it was quite a morning for commuters and nearby businesses in the area. And the impact continues, as a boil water alert has been issued for WSSC customers in a large portion of Prince George’s County south of Central Avenue and Route 202 (Landover Road). (Click here for a map of the area.)

The massive water main break at 3:50 a.m. between Ritchie Marlboro Road and Route 214 in the Largo area closed the Inner loop of the Beltway as rushing water from the 40-year-old main ruined the morning commute for thousands of drivers and damaged nearby businesses and vehicles. 

Water was pouring from the broken pipe and freezing on the highway, creating a sheet of ice. Authorities said the water was as high as 3 feet against some highway guard rails.  One car crashed and left the highway.  It could be seen stuck on an embankment.  The driver was not injured.

At the center of the water main break, vehicles in the parking lot of the Central Hampton Business Park were thrown into the air and came down on their roofs and asphalt crashed through the windows of a nearby business.

"I was in shock," said Alonzo Snowden, whose station wagon was thrown across the parking lot and landed on its roof. "I was looking at my car. It's upside down. All this water. I guess they totaled it."

Businesses became flooded. One manager told NBC Washington that WSSC informed him that the valves might have been too rusty for WSSC to use to shut off the water source.

About a dozen businesses suffered serious structural damage, including Ekklesia Family Life and Worship Center, which had its front walls and windows blown out, spreading chairs across the parking lot, NBC Washington's Chris Gordon reported.

"I'm just glad it didn't happen during Sunday services or Bible study," Pastor Stephanie Stratford said. "No one was hurt, so it's OK."

The center, which serves about 60 families, will have to find somewhere else to worship.

Another line at a WSSC facility in Suitland was let loose to try and relieve the pressure.  Water could be seen shooting high into the air from that release.

About 400,000 WSSC customers were affected by the break, located in the 9200 block of E. Hampton Drive in Capitol Heights. Water pressure returned to normal after the water was stopped.

As a precaution, Prince George's County Fire and EMS deployed tanker trucks carrying up to 2,500 gallons of water for fighting fires to areas of the county plagued by low water pressure.

The Holy Family Catholic School in Hillcrest Heights and Bishop McNamara High School in Forestville both canceled classes Monday because they had no water. Prince George's County Public Schools will provide bottled water to schools in the affected area Tuesday. Water fountains at those schools will be turned off and signs will be posted at all water sources to ensure no one drinks tap water at the schools.

At Andrews Air Force Base, non-emergency workers were excused from work and the base was open for reduced operations. Water pressure was restored before noon, so Tuesday will be a normal duty day.

WSSC recommends if you live in the affected area, that you boil water for drinking, making ice, washing dishes, brushing teeth and food preparation. Water should be brought to a rolling boil for one minute and cooled before using. Water for pets should be boiled and then cooled for their use.

The Boil Water Advisory will continue until further notice to ensure that the water pressure is returned, the system is thoroughly flushed and the acceptable water quality is confirmed by water testing.

The amount of water rushing down the Beltway reminded many of several other spectacular water main breaks our area has seen in the past few years:

Stay with NBCWashington.com for more information.

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